altA Book of Narnians: The Lion, the Witch and the Others by C. S. Lewis, text compiled by James Riordan, illustrated by Pauline Baynes (HarperTrophy, 1994)

When I read a book, it's the words I care about. I confess that I rarely look at illustrations; even when reading picture books to our grandchildren I mostly ignore the pictures. (You can guess how I feel about the "wordless books" that were popular for children at one time.) My view is that if you can't tell a story without illustrations, you're not really telling the story. So much for "a picture is worth a thousand words," at least as far as my reading habits are concerned.

On the other hand, in A Book of Narnians the illustrations are the book, and as far as I'm concerned are the whole worth of the book. Sadly, James Riordan's descriptions of the various Narnian characters, even though taken largely from the books themselves, make me cringe. I'm not certain why, except that—unlike Lewis' words in their original context—they feel condescending, as if someone decided that because this is a picture book, it should be written on a childish level. That's an attitude no intelligent and self-respecting child would put up with.

But it doesn't really matter. The star of the show here is Pauline Baynes' paintings, full color and worth taking time to study. Included as well, to my everlasting delight, is a reproduction of the original published map of Narnia, a poster of which hung for years, alongside a similar map of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, in whatever house or dorm room I happened to inhabit.

(The map of Narnia now resides with our daughter, who takes better care of it than I, alas, ever did. I'm sorry to say I don't know what happened to the Middle Earth map, which was just as delightful.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 16, 2019 at 6:10 am | Edit
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